Communication, Public Speaking, and Leadership in Business

Raising Resilient Communicators: Expert Social Skills Advice

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“Certainly some people are born with the gift of gab but anybody can become a public speaker,” says Camilla Burgess, Founder, CEO, and Coach at Viva Voce Speech Arts Studio. “The more you practice the better you become.”1

The Vancouver-based studio provides executive coaching and speech coaching to individuals and organizations both locally and internationally. Burgess believes that better communicators make better leaders, both professionally and personally, and considers speech training a worthwhile investment for anyone. During a recent interview, she dispensed knowledge about speech and human physiology, while also sharing lessons learned as a business owner and parent.

Becoming an Effective Leader

“A leader is someone who can communicate effectively, motivate, persuade, enroll, and engage, all while being honest and authentic,” says Burgess.

She believes that good communicators are able to bring their values forward during key moments, setting the tone for the rest of the organization and shaping corporate culture in the process. She maintains, however, that the benefits of good communication skills are not limited to those at the top of the corporate ladder. Burgess says that those who can effectively present their ideas in the workplace will be brought into more conversations and provided with more opportunities to grow.

“If you can communicate easily, you’re going to have an easier time with everything that you do,” she says. “From speaking up in the boardroom, to influencing friends and family towards your idea of a perfect weekend, being able to speak with confidence and ease is life changing.”

Physiology of Public Speaking

Burgess says that many of us realize that we have more to bring to the table than we’re currently offering but feel as though there’s something blocking us from putting our ideas forward. Her job as a speech coach is to go in and locate the blocks.

“It’s about nervous system regulation,” she says. “When our nervous system is activated, it becomes difficult for us to communicate effectively. If the speaker can bring safety to themselves, not only will they feel more calm, but the audience will too.”

This, of course, is easier said than done. Is there a reason that public speaking terrifies so many of us? According to Burgess, it goes back to our tribal roots.

“We depended on our groups to hunt, gather supplies, and build shelter,” she explains. “If somebody did something that caused them to be ostracized from the group, they could be ousted. As a result, it’s deeply ingrained in our lizard brains that ‘all eyes on me’ can spell disaster. Survival was on the line.”

Filling the Leadership Void

In contrast to the historical incentive to remain unseen and unheard, Burgess believes that the modern world needs more leadership, not less. So-called ‘imposter syndrome’ is a condition familiar to many of us but her experience has taught her that most people underestimate the importance of their contributions. She believes that many of the modern world’s problems can only be tackled through communication and collaboration, which makes public speaking an important skill.

“The world craves leadership,” she says. “If you want the opportunity to lead, it’s there for you, it’s just a matter of stepping into it.”  

Leading by Example and Learning from Mistakes

Not only is Burgess an executive coach, but an executive herself. Since starting Viva Voce in 2012, she’s learned important firsthand lessons about leadership and delegating responsibility. She became a mother in 2015 and took some time away from the business, putting day-to-day control in the hands of her first employee. In retrospect, she believes that better planning could have made for a smoother transition.

“There was a lack of designed alliance,” she admits. Fortunately, with the help of training and support, the employee was ultimately able to effectively manage the task at hand. As leaders do, Burgess learned from the experience. “By the time I had my second child, I knew better what to do,” she says.

Recruiting Talent for the Coaching Industry

Burgess has a background in theatre, which she believes to be instrumental to her understanding of public speaking. When it came time to staff her growing company, she looked to the stage, hiring coaches with a background in professional acting. Within such a tightly knit community, Burgess explains that her strongest recruitment tool is word of mouth.

“If my employees that I already know, love, and trust are recommending other people, it’s almost a no-brainer,” she says.

Of course Burgess still vets and interviews candidates to ensure that they’re a good match.

“There needs to be a resonance,” she says. “Do they bring a level of excitement, enthusiasm, commitment, and caring? Are they conscientious and interested in helping others?”

The Learning Curve of Owning a Business

Asked about her favorite part of entrepreneurialism, Burgess cites the opportunity to learn and grow.

“I am continuously challenged to be a better version of myself,” she says. “My goal is to keep expanding the business in a way that is in line with what we do best. That way we’ll be able to impact more lives.”

Cited Sources

1 Direct communication with Camilla Burgess